The following obituary of Sir John Carter was published in The Gentleman's Magazine for the year 1808.
Sir John Carter was generally and most deservedly respected both in his private and public capacity. His parents were both Dissenters ; and belonged to that denomination designated by the that term "Rational Dissenters." His father was a Merchant of considerable eminence in Portsmouth ; and though, from the offices Sir John afterwards held, he was under the necessity of occasionally conforming, he remained firm to the principles of dissent from the doctrines and worship of the Established Church. In September 1763, Mr. Carter was elected an Alderman of the borough of Portsmouth ; and about 1768 began to act as a Magistrate. At Michaelmas, 1769, he was chosen Chief Magistrate for the year. In the summer of 1773, during his second mayoralty, the King made his first visit to Portsmouth, and at that time wished to confer the honour of knighthood on the Mayor ; but this Mr. Carter declining, he was informed that his Majesty conceived his refusal proceeded from a disregard for Royal favour.' This consideration, and the persuasion of his friends, induced him to comply, and, was accordingly knighted June 23, 1773. In 1784 he was appointed Sheriff of the county. He was five times elected Mayor of Portsmouth ; and it was during his sixth mayoralty that the King made his third and last visit to Portsmouth.
During the mutiny at Spithead, in 1797, by his mild, conciliatory, and patient conduct, he rendered the Country a very essential service. The sailors having lost three of their body, in consequence of the resistance made to their going on-board the "London" then bearing the flag of Admiral Colpoys, they wished to bury them in Kingston church-yard, and to carry them in procession through the town of Portsmouth. This request was most positively refused them by the Governor; and they applied to Sir John, who endeavoured to move the Governor in their favour, who still remaining inflexible, Sir John at length compromised the affair by getting leave for the sailors to pass through the garrison of Portsmouth in procession, and the dead bodies of their companions to be landed at the Common Hard at Portsea, where the procession was to join them. For this solicitation Sir John was stigmatised as a Jacobin, and this by so many persons in high stations, that he was obliged to decline any intercourse with them. Still so great was his influence over the sailors, that they most scrupulously adhered to the terms he prescribed to those in their procession to the grave, so far, that two who came ashore "a little groggy," were by the rest carefully locked up in a room by themselves, lest they become quarrelsome. The procession was thought an interesting spectacle. Sir John accompanied them himself through the garrison, to prevent any insult being offered them. At the Common Hard he was met by his friend Mr. Godwin, a worthy magistrate of the borough. They attended the procession, till it had passed the fortifications at Portsea and the whole passed off with decency and quietness. When the sailors returned, and were sent off to their respective ships, some of the delegates of the "London" came to Sir John to thank him for his kindness. Sir John seized the opportunity of enquiring after their Admiral. "Do you know him, your Honour? " " Yes, I have a great respect far him, and hope you will not do him any harm." " No, by Gód, your Honour, he shall not be hurt." It was then thought the Admiral would have been hung at the yard-arm ; he had, from precaution, even made his will, is which he left to the widows of the three men unfortunately killed, an annuity of 20l. each.
The next morning the Admiral was safely brought on shore, though pursued by a boat from the Mars. The delegates who accompanied him brought him to Sir John Carter ; and desired to have a receipt for him, as a proof to their comrades that he was safe in the hands of the Civil Power. The Admiral himself, on his first appearance at Court, afterwards acknowledged to his Majesty, that he owed his life to Sir John Carter ; and assured him that Sir Johns principles and conduct had been misrepresented; and that he had not a more faithful and worthy subject in his dominions.
In the riots occasioned by the scarcity in 1791, Sir John's suavity of manners and unostentatious deportment were not less useful than before. In a mutiny also by the Buckinghamshire Militia, among whom he fearlessly mixed, he was not less successful. He was, after all, denounced, at the head of a list of inhabitants, to Mr. Reeves, as a Jacobin; and a strong letter against him was likewise sent to the Duke of Portland, which his Grace, assured of his patriotism, sent to Sir John, proposing to offer a reward for the discovery of the writer, which, with a dignified consciousness of his purity, Sir John declined. Indeed, so disinterested and honourable were his political principles, that when, in 1806, he was offered a Baronetage by Mr. Fox, he declined it on the ground that he believed that to accept it as a reward, would be a manifest departure from his principles. These principles it was that induced him to offer a seat in Parliament for the Borough to the present Lord Erskine. The same offer being afterwards made to Sir T. Miller, bart. he declared that nothing but the truly honourable way in which the seat was offered him could have induced him to return again to the fatigue of parliamentary duties.
The same conciliating temper induced him also, during the late violence of Party, to propose, as the other representative, some moderate member of the Administration first, the late Lord Hugh Seymour ; and afterwards Captain now Admiral Markham, in compliment to their common friend, the Earl of St Vincent. In 1804 he filled the chair of Chief Magistrate or Mayor of Portsmouth for the ninth and last time. He was uniformly upright and impartial; as willing to afford relief by his purse as by his advice. To the poor he was a guardian ; and many persons had prevailed upon him to undertake the direction of their concerns, by which he set their minds at ease. Never was there a character in which there was less of self than him ; in fact, his incessant attention to the duties of his office, and the interest he took in the concerns of friends and dependents, contributed to wear out a constitution not naturally strong. His health had been gradually declining for the last three years. He quitted life with the same composure with which he had passed through it ; his lamp went gently out. He drew his last breath during sleep. His servants and numerous tenantry spontaneously paid the same external tribute of affection and regard that they pay to a near relative, by shutting up their houses.
A family vault was built for him in the burying-ground of the Unitarian Dissenters at Portsmouth, of which society he was nearly the oldest member, the whole of whom went into mourning. He was carried to the burying-place at 7 in the morning of the 25th of May by eight of his servants, and followed by his son, his youngest and only surviving brother, and his oldest nephew. Such was the public feeling on this melancholy occasion, that many hundreds of people more than could be admitted into the Chapel were assembled by 6 in the morning. The Southern Unitarian Society have, in him, lost a valuable member, and mankind a friend, if the prayers and tears that followed him can he taken as any proof of the public esteem. He has left a widow and six children. The eldest daughter is married to Captain Eveleigh, of the Royal Engineers. The second to Captain Gifford, of the Royal Navy, Lieutenant-governor of the Royal Naval College. The other daughters are unmarried. His son is a minor, an amiable and promising young man; educated under Mr. Cogan, of Higham Hill, Walthamstow; and is now a student for the Common Law, at Trinity college, Cambridge.
Further Information
John Carter was born on 16th December 20, 1741. He died on May 18, 1808.
He was Mayor of Portsmouth nine times between 1772 and 1804 (See our Mayors list for details). His father John was also Mayor on seven occasions between 1747 and 1769. One of the family's main businesses was the managing and later owning the Pike-Spicer brewery.
There is a biography of Sir John Carter on the Unitarian Universalist Historical Society website.
For information on the Spithead Mutiny see